A new walnut rostrum, the focal point of the room, exemplifies the 1951 decorative changes in the Chamber. The old rostrum was marble, decorated with carved pilasters. The new walnut version is more spacious and streamlined, decorated sparingly with symbolic low-relief carvings. The top tier, where the Speaker presides, is carved with four laurel branches, a traditional symbol of victory. The bottom tier is carved with oak branch wreaths, a symbol of longevity. These abstract botanical symbols are complemented with a direct assertion of ideas on the rostrum's lowest level. Across the front, inscriptions read “Union,” “Justice,” “Tolerance,” “Liberty,” and “Peace,” affirming the focus of the United States government in the post-war world.
The rostrum provides seating for all the staff needed to keep sessions moving, and votes properly tallied and recorded, but the seat of honor at the top is reserved for the presiding officer. The swivel chair made for Speaker Sam Rayburn in 1941 remained at the top of the rostrum after the renovation. Its tall scroll back and simple, classical-inspired embellishment—including carved acanthus leaves supporting the padded armrests, and the row of pearls carved around the seat perimeter—give the chair an air of authority. This look proved enduring, as it was replaced years later with an identical chair, still used most days in the Chamber, once the original wore out.
Symbolism in the Chamber
Some symbols from the Chamber’s old appearance survived, but with a fresh look. The wall behind the rostrum still includes decorative Roman fasces—a classical symbol of civic authority and unity—but stylized and in bronze rather than gilded iron. The Founding Fathers consciously cultivated an association with Republican Rome during the early years of the United States, and fasces used in the Chamber are an enduring symbol of that association. Fasces also reference the new philosophy of democracy that they envisioned for America. Like the thin rods bound together in fasces, the individual states achieve their strength and stability through their union under the federal government. The flag remains behind the Speaker’s chair, but it now punctuates a polished marble wall rather than panels of decorative cast iron floral reliefs.
The Cold War influenced both the décor in and the guests invited to the House Chamber. When the House highlighted civic embrace of religion by adding “In God We Trust” above the rostrum on December 19, 1962, it represented a rebuke of the Cold War–era philosophy of the Soviet Union. And a few years later, when Congress invited the crew of the Gemini 5 space mission—the longest manned journey in space to that date—to address a Joint Meeting, it was another pointed jab. Space travel was an important front in the Cold War, with technical innovation considered a direct challenge to the Soviet Union.